Hongkongers clutching white flowers gathered on Monday evening to mark 15 months since baton-wielding riot police stormed Prince Edward MTR station, despite a strong police presence and a decision to ban the laying of flowers at this month’s commemoration.
People have been marking the Prince Edward incident of August 31, 2019 by placing flowers outside the station on the last day of every month as a sign of protest. But three people who did so on Monday were reportedly fined for littering.
Police loudspeaker announcements warned people they were in violation of pandemic gathering violations and that those who left objects would breach anti-littering laws. The public gathering limit is currently four and falls to two from Wednesday. Those who violate it currently face a fine of HK$2,000 while those found littering can be fined HK$1,500.
Black-clad individuals holding white chrysanthemums paused briefly outside the station exit to pay their respects. One man named Tsang was seen kneeling momentarily in front of the police cordon.
Tsang told HKFP it was important to remember what happened. “I’m here to commemorate last year’s 831 event. You can see on television that many people were injured… Innocent Hong Kong citizens… suffered an indiscriminate attack, a terrorist attack. This cannot be changed.”
On August 31 last year, riot police stormed Prince Edward MTR station following hours of protest clashes. Officers were filmed pepper-spraying people in carriages as they ordeed reporters and medics to leave the scene. Discrepancies in official records of injuries and the closure of the station fuelled unverified rumours of civilian deaths.
Authorities strongly deny anyone was killed and no evidence of this has ever emerged.
For Ms Law, a woman who passed by holding flowers and bowed three times to the station, rumours of deaths were beside the point. “Whether or not people died, we have the right to remember this incident. Why won’t they let us commemorate it?”
“If they don’t let us lay down flowers, we can still hold them and pass by to remember what happened,” she told HKFP.
A prominent protester known as “Grandma Wong” said she believed people had gone missing and it was the right thing to do to remember them, despite the heavy police presence. The 64-year-old returned to Hong Kong in early October after being detained by Chinese authorities in Shenzhen.
A small yet steady stream of people holding white and yellow flowers passed by the station as the night wore on. None lingered and none appeared to attend in groups larger than four. Later in the night, some protesters shouted slogans including “Hong Kong, add oil!” and “July 21, people disappeared, August 31, beat people to death, October 1, shoot to kill.”
Pro-democracy district councillor Andy Yu told reporters outside the station the police ban on flowers was a clear act of oppression. “We the democrats have issued a statement stating how ridiculous the police are. This is definitely oppression.”
Yu said a balance should be struck so the public can still commemorate the incident in a safe manner. “It has been very peaceful event since March, we hope to act as a mediating role, also to let Hong Kong people know that some things should not be forgotten.”
Yau Tsim Mong District Councillor Ben Lam, collected flowers bought by those who showed up on Monday at his nearby office. He said police had warned him they may arrest district councillors if they collect flowers outside the station.
Lam said the collected flowers would be taken to Sandy Bridge cemetery on Thursday.
The police refused to comment on HKFP ‘s request for confirmation of the flowers ban.
Additional reporting: Candice Chau